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Charlotte Talks: Clayton Wilcox Readies For New CMS Year, Student Reassignment

John D. Simmons / The Charlotte Observer

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Six weeks into his tenure as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent, Clayton Wilcox joins Mike Collins for a discussion on his vision for the district's 150,000 students.

Clayton Wilcox is in his second month holding down one of the toughest jobs around - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent. He’s the fifth person to hold down the job in the past decade, and before officially taking the post this summer, Wilcox spent several months getting the lay of the land. That included watching from the sidelines as the school system and the community wrestled with student assignment, which Wilcox will now be in charge of implementing next year.

He’ll also be trying to convince the community to approve a nearly billion dollar bond package. That’s all on top of the start of a new school year in less than two weeks.

Wilcox’s tenure has also brought some raised eyebrows over the hiring of top administrators.

Clayton Wilcox sits down with Mike Collins for a look at the upcoming school year, the looming implementation of student assignment, and his vision for North Carolina’s second-largest school district.

Interview highlights

On his plans for CMS

“I have more of an urgent spirit. I’m going to push a little harder than Ms. Clark did. I’m not as understanding of failure to meet expectations. I will be dignified in that, but I’m going to set expectations and hold people accountable. I support the concept of innovation. My role as the superintendent is for the public school system to be the choice of parents.”
“We’re moving forward with the bond initiative for $922 million, the largest bond referendum in Charlotte history. We need it to create spaces for our young people that are worthy of them, and allow us to teach them in a 21st century manner. We integrate subjects, mathematics is not taught devoid of physics so we need spaces that align with that. We’re building 17 new or replacement facilities and we have a significant number of remodeling projects as well."

Education and civil rights issues in Charlottesville

“Rather than telling the truth about our [American] history, we’ve watered it down and now we’re starting to see the consequences of those decisions. They [Neo-Nazis] don’t understand what fascism is. Had they known what they were standing for they wouldn’t have identified with that type of terror.”
“It’s arguable whether every child in the school system gets the same quality of education. That’s my role, to equal that playing field. If you can’t read you’re not going to be able to compete or achieve in the 21st century. Reading is the foundational skill that everyone has to have or you won’t be able to avail yourself to any options. Education is the key to righting some of the things in our society. It’s the way we give young people opportunity.”

Learning in the 21st century

“Boutique learning is about taking where kids are passionate and finding a way to make sure they learn what they need to be successful. When we find a kid’s interest we make sure their traditional learning supports that as well. We’re asking kids to be critical consumers. We’re trying to create a generation of thinkers. In the 21st century, your interaction with others, business, and industry is often surrounded by technology. We have to create kids who are sophisticated digital consumers.”

There is no substitute for good parenting

“Often, kids come from an environment where there is no connection to the world in terms of word. Parents aren’t letting kids explore language. When they come to school they’re not prepared. We have to reallocate resources to help the kids who are most in need. As a school system we have the foundational skills to teach reading to kids, but we need parents and communities to support that. Your experience dictates your belief system. Many of the problems manifested in schools aren’t created in schools. They’re created in our larger society. We [the school system] can’t be the source of spirituality or their understanding of right and wrong. That has to begin at home and be reinforced by the community.”